Thursday, 30 June 2011

Cults And The Problem Of Public Perception

The last few weeks I've been listening to little else than Cults' debut album, Cults. At just over half an hour long, it's a waif of a record, but one so tasty and perfectly-produced  that I keep on coming back, again and again. It's possibly one of the best things released so far this year.

I wanted to write a review, but everything I'd like to say about the band has already been said, so before I descend into a music blog cliche let's take a sideways look. Cults may be a "buzz band", but outside of the bloggers and compulsive tweeters, very few people seem to have heard of them.

Perhaps it's the mysterious, opaque image they've created by releasing as little information as possible about themselves and avoiding interviews like the plague. Most bands - especially young, unestablished ones - will take any opportunity to be featured in the press, giving away free CDs and gig tickets and speaking into any microphone thrust in their direction.

This is fair enough. It's tough to get into the music business, and any strategy to get more people listening to your work (and buying your music) is fair game. Cults, however, have refused to play along, initially releasing their music on Bandcamp with little more than a photo of themselves and revealing as little personal information as possible.

Oddball eyeballs: The
still-anonymous Residents
Despite what the frothing music press will have believe, generating a mysterious personal image is hardly a new gimmick. Dubstep pioneer Burial managed to remain anonymous for two years after the release of his critically-acclaimed debut album, while art-rock collective The Residents have managed to maintain their anonymity since the late sixties. It's not just restricted to music, either - phenomenally successful graffiti artist Banksy has managed to keep his identity a secret, despite even turning his hand to directing a feature film.

Yet in contrast to these examples, we already know who Cults are - a bunch of long-haired kids who met at university. Just this background knowledge alone has a massive effect of our perception of the music, far more so than any details of their love lives or anything else. It could be argued that if your identity isn't a total secret, then why bother with the mystery at all?

With every intimate detail of celebrities' personal lives being shared these days (either purposefully via Twitter or less so by gossip mags), the argument goes that we know too much about our favourite artists. Bands are expected to run blogs and reply directly to their fans. Sure, it's crucial to connect with a young audience and to spread your name around - but in the case of 95% bands I enjoy listening to, I couldn't care less what thought is running through their head at this precise time.

A particularly sickening example
found at
Meanwhile, the fans themselves cram every known photo, interview and shaky gig recording onto their tumblr blogs. In contrast to the other forms of overexposure, I would argue that this makes bands, if anything, less human.

Indeed, anyone who has browsed through the tens of thousands of animated GIFs of lead singers strutting around the stage on Tumblr would testify that the more these fans know about the band members, the further they are deified.

We've deviated a bit form the initial point, but at the end of the day, bands need to strike a balance between intrigue and intimacy, and there's a different sweet spot for every band. Mind you, I'm not sure Cults have found that spot yet. There's only so many articles that can be written with the opening line "Very little is known about the New York-based band....".

Having built up a buzz in the blogosphere, it's time to cash in on the hype and pimp themselves out to the mainstream press - before the notoriously short attention span of the internet moves on to the Next Big Thing.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Album Review: Frank Turner - England Keep My Bones

If I’m completely honest, I’d gone off Frank Turner a little bit last year. He’d started to gain more mainstream attention with the likes of ‘The Road’, and his army of dedicated fans was constantly multiplying - all the signs seemed good. Except, 2009’s Poety Of The Deed was a bit of an underwhelming album overall; as covered in this piece I wrote a few weeks ago, as much as I love Frank and he has some wonderful, touching, funny and poignant tunes, he’s never really delivered one consistently great album. Poetry Of The Deed continued this tradition, yet the knockout tracks seemed fewer and further between. With that in mind, I ask you to cast those lacklustre memories aside and turn your attention to new album England Keep My Bones. With all honesty, I can attest that it is Frank’s most consistently brilliant album yet, and the closest he’s yet come to writing his masterpiece.

As you might expect from the album title, England Keep My Bones is an album steeped in heritage: this record is Frank’s view and understanding of his homeland, his origins, the ever-expanding history of the country and his place within it. Turner’s England is one flowing with life, a living, breathing organism with rivers and roads for veins, earth for flesh and, most importantly, a soul. The people who inhabit England are extensions of the motherland, each linked by their nationality, and rendered immortal by the marks and memories they leave ingrained upon both one another and the land.

“We are blood cells alive in the bloodstream of the beating heart of the country/We are electric pulses in the pathways of the sleeping soul of the country”
--‘I Am Disappeared’

  Frank Turner - I Am Disappeared by Epitaph Records

‘One Foot Before The Other’ sees Turner ponder cremation upon the inevitability of death, so that he can then spread himself throughout the population, and eventually to the land and sea, whilst the gorgeous ‘Rivers’, surely one of his most accomplished songs, closes with his heart-rending declaration that “When I die I long to be/Buried out at English sea/So all that then remains of me will lap against there shores/Until England is no more”. These lyrical motifs tie the whole album together with a sense of completion that Turner’s never before managed; where other albums have had brilliant standalone songs, England Keep My Bones feel wonderfully organic and self-contained, completely satisfying as a whole.

Musically, this is the biggest-sounding Frank album to date, with backing band The Sleeping Souls featuring on the majority of tracks. On previous albums, the best moments always came with just Frank and his guitar - particularly, much of Poetry Of The Deed became stodgy and dull, however it’s as if Turner has since realised how to use the band to accentuate the life of the songs instead of drown them out. First single ‘Peggy Sang The Blues’, the previously-released ‘I Still Believe’ (which sounds much better in the context of the album) and ‘If Ever I Stray’ are all brimming with uplifting arrangements that raise the songs into joyous new heights. ‘If Ever I Stray’ in particular really stands out with a breathless, jubilant chorus.

“It doesn’t matter where you come from/It matters where you go”
--‘Peggy Sang The Blues’

  Frank Turner - Peggy Sang The Blues by Epitaph Records

Whilst the band appears much more frequently on England Keep My Bones, the album also veers in the complete opposite direction for fully a capella track ‘English Curse’. Written and composed by Turner himself, it’s a very traditional-sounding English folk song with historical roots in a legendary curse upon William the Conqueror, from “many years back when these old oaks were young”. Entirely convincing as a time-honoured relic of forest folklore, it’s a remarkably accomplished piece of songwriting, and a real jaw-dropper on first listen.

As ever, one of the most striking aspects of Frank’s music is the passion and intensity he imbues it with, even more apparent in his live performances. In his existential quest in England Keep My Bones, he sounds yet more impassioned, searching spiritedly for answers and notions of nationality with dramatic fervour. See for instance opener ‘Eulogy’, with the oddly affecting lyric “Not everyone grows up to be an astronaut” - this is as much an album of Frank coming to terms with who he has become as well as where he comes from. When the band crashes in and Turner yells “On the day I die/I’ll say ‘at least I fucking tried’/That’s the only Eulogy I need”, it immediately commences the album on an emotional high. ‘One Foot Before The Other’ is also notably Frank’s heaviest song since his Million Dead days, though it doesn’t feel too out of place here.

“If you steal the land of an Englishman then you shall know this curse/Your first born son’s warm blood will run upon the English earth”
--‘English Curse’

Daring closing track ‘Glory Hallelujah’ is full of British irony, in what can only be described as an atheist hymn. Getting a gospel choir to repeatedly sing “There is no God” is initially jarring, and as offensive as people may find the chorus (Frank apologises to his religious friends and his mother in the album liner notes), the overall message that people need to take account for their actions and aid and inspire one another is a display of the honesty that can always been found in Turner’s songs. It’s also brilliantly composed, with some great vocal harmonies, jazzy pianos and optimistic organs.

Though ‘Long Live The Queen’ and ‘The Ballad Of Me And My Friends’ might still remain as Frank Turner’s best tunes, England Keep My Bones finally provides the accomplished album that we’ve always known he’s been capable of. With a brilliant, personal concept, the album provides loads of Turner’s best, most passionate tunes yet; the way he writes about his own England brings to mind Springsteen’s tales of working class New Jersey, personal and political struggle mixing with the pride and identity inherent in a homeland. The Sleeping Souls are used to full effect, and for once the songs don’t pay the price. If you’re a fan, this is an essential listen; if you’ve always given him a miss, there might just be enough to convert you here. Finally, Frank Turner has made an album which will really creep into your bones. Good luck trying to shake it.


    Buy the gorgeous deluxe edition CD of England Keep My Bones here on Amazon. The (fake) leather-bound packaging is lovely, and you'll need all the lyrics for his live shows, or you'll be the only one not singing along...

    Sunday, 19 June 2011

    Gig Review - The Horrors @ York Hall, 17/06/11

    Photo by Pandalotte
    It's a dreary, drizzly friday evening, and I'm being bored to death by a psychedelic rock band fronted by a man mumbling into his microphone. Don't worry,  this isn't The Horrors but the support act that precedes them - a band so bad that they don't bother announcing their own name. Their material picks up towards the end of their ridiculously long set, but by this point no-one is interested.

    It's a terrible shame. A support act should get the crowd ready for the main event, not send them to sleep. Perhaps I'm the only one drained of excitement, however, because as The Horrors walk onstage, a small group of very drunk (or very enthusiastic) fans scream "I want to fuck you, Rhys!".

    If one good thing as come from The Horrors' shallow and image-conscious early work, it's the cult following the band has maintained - regardless of the great lengths taken to make themselves more credible. The outfits (though still black) are more normal, the stage presence is calmer and, crucially, the immature and underdeveloped early material is entirely absent.

    Instead, the songs played tonight - many taken from forthcoming third album Skying - are slow in pace and almost dreamy in tone, and a million miles from the likes of 'Jack The Ripper' and 'Death At The Chapel'. The crowd, a mix of fans dressed in black and ultra-trendy indie kids, isn't quite sure how to react to relaxed opener 'Changing The Rain', and so stays relatively still.

    This is followed up with one of the lesser tracks from Primary Colours, 'Scarlet Fields'. It's a strange choice of song, and is neither fast enough to dance nor catchy enough to sing along to. The drunk Rhys-fanciers mentioned earlier unsuccessfully attempt to open up a mosh pit. Then another new song with a great spaced-out riff, 'I Can See Through You', which has been recently leaked.

    Finally, the gig begins to pick up pace with a couple of tracks from the second album, 'Three Decades' and 'Who Can Say'. The latter truly whips the crowd up into a fervour with its catchy synth hook and distorted bassline.

    It's difficult honestly to judge the new material fairly when it's being heard for the first time. It's certainly nowhere near as dark or moody as Primary Colours, One man standing in front of me mutters to his friend, "it all sounds like britpop". This new track he's referring to, 'Endless Blue', starts off slow, but then picks up pace with a great drop. It's a good sign when the crowd is dancing this aggressively to unfamiliar tunes.

    The band's guitarist, Joshua Hayward - now with
    considerably less silly hair. (Photos by Pandalotte)
    And now, finally, the band bring out the big guns: first off is 'Sea Within A Sea', arguably their greatest song to date. It doesn't quite have the same spooky atmosphere live, and the beautiful arpeggio ending is cut a little short, but it's still a wonderful experience. Then for 'Still Life', the only new song so far officially released, multi-coloured floodlights are switched on to reveal the entire audience. For a song only released a few weeks ago, it gets a surprisingly decent sing-along going (although personally I wish there'd been a bit of arm-waving going on), and sounds as big live as it does on record.

    After an ultimately pointless interlude (no-one even bothered shouting "encore!", because we knew they were coming out again), they come back on to finish with the epic 'Mirror's Image' and another new song, 'Moving Further Away, which is a joyous wall of noise with a calmer section in the middle, and a brilliant end to the set. The crowd leaves York Hall buzzing, and more excited for the release of Skying next month than ever.

    Saturday, 11 June 2011

    Best Of The Inbox 2: Hey Sholay, Get People, WATERS, Wye Oak and Ill-iteracy

    It's been ages since we did our first "best of the inbox", and when we asked for more music submissions I think we were probably a little naive in thinking we'd ever be able to sort through the mountains of bands (and PR companies) getting in touch. Nonetheless we've tried our best to sort through this madness to find some great bands you've probably never heard of. And if you've got some music you'd like to share, you can email us at

    Ben made a note in the inbox next to this band's email, describing it as "actually pretty damn good", and he's not half wrong. Hey Sholay produce great energetic indie rock with some really nifty songwriting. 'Gold Teeth and Goodbyes (A Song For Sparrows)' goes for an Animal Collective-style psychedelia, with nature sounds, floaty synths and a big crowd-friendly chorus. Meanwhile, a sleeker U2-like sound can be found in tracks like 'The Bears, the Bees and No Clocks'. Overall, one of the more original things to be found in our inbox this week, and highly recommended.

     Gold teeth and goodbyes (a song for sparrows) ((HEY SHOLAY)) by Hey Sholay

    When I first began listening to Get People's 'Rain Tears', I thought of them as another trendy 80s synthpop ripoff. Then I thought perhaps they were another one of those Washed Out-esque chillwave bands (the horror!) - but listen a little closer, because this is a cut above the usual rubbish. Interesting rhythms, Klaxons-style layered vocals and some nice subtle dance influences mark Get People out - although the high-pitched vocals and the very influences I admire in them may make them a bit of a Marmite band.

     Away by GET PEOPLE

    Enough of this psychedelic nonsense - how about some dirty, scuzzy guitar rock? Allow me to introduce WATERS, the solo project of the lead singer of some band called Port O'Brien (should I know of them..?), whose track 'For The One' is a lovely little slice of distorted fun.

     WATERS - For The One by cityslang

    I was going to introduce Wye Oak next as the best thing to come out of Baltimore since The Wire, but turns out Baltimore has a pretty good music scene going on (it's the hometown of Panda Bear and a personal fave, Celebration). Regardless, the band would still do McNulty proud, with a dark and atmospheric sound that sort of brings to mind Warpaint. They're playing a (sold out) gig in London next Thursday with aforementioned WATERS - should be pretty good if you manage to get your hands on some tickets!

     Wye Oak - Civilian by WorkItMedia

    Last, but certainly not least, is an underground rap group whose email arrived just in time for inclusion. 'Tick Tock' was sent to us with no introduction or description, but after three consequetive listens, I'm ready to label the keyboard hook of Ill-iteracy's song as one of my favourite finds of this round of BOTI.

    Ill-Iteracy's (yeah I know, ignore the name) work is pleasantly understated, tackling worthy subjects with stunning production. It's a rare treat to come across hip-hop with such a spooky sound - reminiscent in some ways of another great underground rap group, Subtle. Plus, their album The Ensembly Line is available for free, and having taken a quick listen is definitely recommended.

    Introducing... Alaska

    A few days ago, I went along to a mate’s band's gig, Bonus Beyond, in Nottingham for the launch of their mini-album Until The Waves Come. Of course, I was there primarily to support my mate, but overall it was still an exciting deal - headlining at Rescue Rooms (one of the best venues in the city), with a load of other local bands supporting, and all to release a nicely polished CD package. So, on a quick personal note - nice one Erik, Bonus Beyond were ace! They played a very energetic set of heavy post-hardcore with great dynamics, impressively twiddly guitar solos, and excellent stage presence.

    No Compromise Pt. I by Bonus Beyond

    However, I'd always expected to enjoy their performance, so the best surprise of the night though was another little Notts band called Alaska. Certainly the highlight of the support acts, this four-piece played a pretty remarkable set. Walking onstage in plaid shirts and baggy jeans, it was clear that Alaska were about to bring a slice of the ‘90s to the stage. These guys literally wore their influences on their sleeves. As lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist Antonio Panzera (incredible name!) plugged in his red Gibson SG, I found myself with fingers crossed, hoping that some Weezer-esque grunge pop was about to tumble out of the amps. Turns out I was absolutely right.

    Alaska at Rescue Rooms on Monday 6th June

    As a MASSIVE Weezer fan (they’re my absolute #1 favourite band), I was thrilled that most of Alaska’s tunes are heavily indebted to the fuzzed-out power-pop of Rivers Cuomo and co. I shouldn’t really get ahead of myself here, because saying that these guys could write the next Blue Album or Pinkerton is a step too far, but there were a shedload of catchy riffs, well thought-out vocal harmonies and ace solos. A mate genuinely thought that one of their tracks was a Weezer cover, whilst another tune had a chord progression almost identical to the bridge in ‘Don’t Let Go’.

    Another clear influence, and hence another reason why I'm so excited about the band, was the Pixies. A few of the songs showed a rawer, heaver edge, whilst bassist Gabe May really knows how to write a rumbling Kim Deal-like bassline. Oh, and Panzera can scream like Frank Black. No, he really can - that rasping, throaty yelp that’s pretty much impossible to imitate (I’ve only tried once, on my own in the car when I had my Pixies mixtape on), Antonio’s got it down pat.

    On Alaska's Facebook page, and at the bottom of this post, is a free download of the excellent ‘Fly Away’, which displays all the aforementioned qualities of the band, and is seriously catchy stuff. The quality of the recording isn’t brilliant, but let’s just say it all adds to the ‘90s lo-fi feel of the whole thing. With promises on their Twitter feed of upcoming studio time, I really can’t wait to hear more from Alaska. Long live the grunge revival!

    Tuesday, 7 June 2011

    Festival Review - Dot To Dot 2011, Nottingham, 29/5/11: Part Two

    Click the image for more
    Dot To Dot 2011 Coverage
    As promised, here is part two of our review of Dot To Dot festival from last Sunday. If you haven’t read Part One - and why wouldn’t you have? - then you’ve missed out on our accounts of the shoegazing Spotlight Kid, intense electro-rocking VETO, immense power-popping Stagecoach, seductively strumming Benjamin Francis Leftwich, frantically party-coring Dananananaykroyd and supremely riffing Joy Formidable. Oh, and Elliot getting an unexpected haircut. Read on for loads more bands, paella, tribal drumming and a heck of a lot of free MP3s.

    Having just seen the epic double bill of Dananananaykroyd and The Joy Formidable, as well as Stagecoach earlier in the day, it had been a noisy, energetic and pretty draining afternoon. After piling out of the Trent Uni, it was certainly time for a bit of a break, and a bit more of an explore around Talbot Street. We wandered back over to a previously spotted paella stand, which was obviously an incredible meal. When there’s chorizo, chicken, rice AND spices all involved in food, what can go wrong? Nothing, that’s what. Soon, a crowd gathered at the top of Talbot Street near the bar, which turned out to be for a group of tribal-style drummers, who drummed up (pun 100% intended) an enthusiastic (read: drunk) audience, and resulted in the most dancing we’d seen all day. Of course, Elliot and I joined in a bit, but decided to leave it to everyone else who was doing a much better job of ‘shaking it’ than we were, and so we ventured off to the Bodega.

    Tribal drumming on Talbot Street. Everyone dancing is pissed.

    After the intensity of the afternoon, Alessi’s Ark provided a very welcome chilled out 30 minutes of acoustic country-tinged folk. Playing to a nicely spaced crowd, Alessi’s soothing vocals were gorgeously lulling, with lovely, simple arrangements from the backing band. Where Laura Marling has moved into more pastoral, Joni Mitchell-infused territories with I Speak Because I Can, Alessi’s Ark remain on the dreamier, more whimsical end of the “nu-folk” (an awful, but awfully convenient term) spectrum.

    It’s hardly an insult to say that, partly due to knowing little of the material, few of the songs particularly grabbed me - rather they delicately washed over me, and as a result made me more intrigued to check out her studio efforts. There was nothing cluttered or complex about the set, and as an antidote to the noise and power of the rest of the day it was almost perfect.

    Providing a less relaxed but equally impressive set were Oxford's well-hyped Fixers. A blending of attention-grabbing vocal harmonies, squawking electronics, samples, hip-shaking rhythms and funky basslines could see them have a strong chance at completely owning this summer. If 'Another Lost Apache', from debut EP Here Comes 2001 So Let's All Head For The Sun, doesn't immediately transport your mind to a massive lush field where you're sat with a pint of cider in one hand, a sweaty burger in the other and a straw hat on your head, then I don't know what will. Except for maybe the single 'Crystals', which clearly has "SUMMER ANTHEM" stamped all over it in big, bold capital letters.

    Both tunes were obvious highlights at their Dot To Dot set, which sounded absolutely despite a few sound problems kicking in. The first half of the set showed what an accomplished, tight live performance Fixers are already capable of giving, nailing all of the vocal harmonies perfectly, and showing off considerable songwriting talent. A mixture of MGMT's prog-pop, Foals' rhythmic expertise and Everything Everything's vocal dexterity, Fixers' material is already pretty astonishing stuff - a debut album can't come soon enough. Even when the sample thingy broke, the tunes still held up as the band admirably carried on. Though not sounding as full as they should have, there was enough going on in the band to carry the songs, and the audience stayed rapt 'til the end. I would say to keep an eye on Fixers, but to be honest in a few weeks time you'll barely be able to ignore them.
    Cults - Tall, skinny, with long
    scraggly black hair
    Photo by melimOi

    Hotly-tipped RnB genre-smashers Cults had been placed in the Bodega, a small bar a little way from the rest of the venues. It’s a lovely little intimate place, and since Ben and I had stuck around for the last two acts we were right at the front for their midnight slot.

    The first thing you notice about Cults is that three of their members appear to be the same person - tall and skinny with long, scraggy black hair, and tonight all wearing white shirts and skinny jeans. And of course there’s Madeline Follin, the already-iconic lead singer, whose dainty bop and expert pout must have taken hours to perfect.

    To go with this distinctive look, the band produce spooky, indiefied Motown-style R&B. At least, on record they do - it was fairly difficult to tell in this instance as the sound problems that had plagued Fixers’ set once again reared their ugly heads, this time with a vengeance. For a start, Madeline’s own microphone cut out halfway through songs (much to her annoyance, it should be noted), and it took the tech people at least ten minutes to finally replace it.

    Then there was the overall mixing, which mushed Cults’ soft-loud arrangements into a wall of noise - a terrible shame, and one the band appeared all too aware of. When her mic was actually working, Madeline was unfortunately slightly out-of-tune, likely because it was difficult for the audience to hear her powerful voice, let alone the singer herself.

    I don’t blame Cults for any of these problems; I blame the sound guy and the rushed nature of festivals’ sound checks (anyone see The Horrors at Reading ‘09? Yikes!), but it was still a disappointment.

    Next stop was SBTRKT, who I think it’s fair to say Ben and I knew very little about. The only track I’d heard before was a stunning remix of Radiohead’s ‘Everything In Its Right Place’, and sadly that was left off the set list tonight. It was fun, though - atmosopheric dubstep-influenced electronica with few distinctive songs but lots of great beats and mixing. A combination of live and electronic drumming marked the pair, who wore spooky tribal masks, as an act definitelty worth keeping an eye on in the future - all they need now is a killer single to steal the public’s imagination.

    TEED (In dinosaur hoody, before he put 'the hat' on...
    Photo by Victor Frankowski

    The final act of the night was Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, a DJ named Orlando Higginbottom (not professionally, mind) who specialises in chilled-out electronica with brilliantly pathetic vocals over the top. As a big fan of TEED, I had been waiting the entire day for this and - well - yeah, I have to admit I was a little disappointed.

    Well, some of it wasn’t exactly TEED’s fault. I’m sure he didn’t intend to place a tall, sweaty and topless man in front of me and Ben, who spent the entire gig making out with some girl. However, the soundtrack to this was the worse parts of TEED’s output, boring instrumental house/dubstep stuff with no truly great drops or rhythms.

    To make things worse, Orlando has a tremendously boring voice which works perfectly within his songs but utterly drained the atmosphere. “Our other dancing girl has twisted her ankle, so it’s just Lucy on her own tonight,” he mumbles into the microphone, with the enthusiasm of a man told his nine-hour toilet-scrubbing shift has been doubled. (At one point, he stops the music altogether to moan at the sound guy that he’s getting too much feedback.) Granted, the massive hat looked even more impressive in person, but what TEED really needs as a live act is a Magnetic Man-style MC to excite the crowd - not more unexciting dancing girls.

    Once we manouvered our way round towards the front, things picked up: latest single ‘Trouble’ came on! I had wondered how these songs would be performed, since it is difficult to imagine TEED singing and mixing things together at the same time. It seems he had decided to simply sing over the top of the instrumental tracks, like a very public karaoke session. Hmm.

    Within the space of about ten minutes, all three of the big singles - ‘Trouble’, ‘Household Goods’, and ‘Garden’ featuring a pre-recorded Lulu - were rushed through with little to no embellishment (in fact, I’m sure they were shorter than their recorded counterparts) and fairly poor mixing.

    A DJ set probably would have gone down far better with 80% of the hour’s set comprised of filler. In fact, after twelve hours of live music, we decided to call it a night before the set was even up. I do love you TEED, honestly, but that live act really does need some work.

    So there's your Dot To Dot lot - massive thanks to the organisers for putting on yet another brilliant year of the festival, and thanks to all the awesome bands, especially Stagecoach (interview is coming soon!). As promised, here is our 11-track Dot To Dot Mixtape - we're not going to lie, they're all bangers. All the artists we saw were pretty damn ace, so take the time to listen to these and then support them by going to their gigs and buying their CDs!

    Click the image to download the full mixtape as a .zip file!
    1. Spotlight Kid - Haunting Me
    2. VETO - You Say Yes, I Say Yes
    3. Stagecoach - We Got Tazers!
    4. Benjamin Francis Leftwich - Atlas Hands
    5. Dananananaykroyd - America Runs On Duncan
    6. The Joy Formidable - Cradle
    7. Alessi's Ark - Wire
    8. Fixers - Crystals
    9. Cults - Abducted
    10. SBTRKT - Wildfire
    11. Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs - Moon Hits The Mirrorball
    Already looking forward to next year's Dot To Dot Festival? Get your tickets now if you're eager, only £20 here.

        Saturday, 4 June 2011

        Nicola Roberts And The Impact Of ‘Pon De Floor’

        It’s been a while since I last wrote about commercial pop music, and the first solo release from Nicola Roberts (the “shy ginger one” of Girls Aloud), released today, definitely deserves a few column inches. It’s a beauty, written and produced by two of the best pop producers around right now.

        ‘Beat of My Drum’ is more than just a great song, however: it’s indicative of where pop music is going right now. The two key influences are undoubtedly Justice’s ‘D.A.N.C.E.’ and Major Lazer’s ‘Pon De Floor’, both unashamedly fun tracks. But of the two it’s ‘Pon De Floor’ that could be considered the most important and influential song released in the last two years.

        Odd perhaps, considering how bizarre the song actually is. What began as a tribute to Jamaican dancehall reggae has somehow, since its release back in August 2009, managed to conquer pop music. No, really - If Roberts’ near-sampling of the song isn’t enough proof of this, consider the new Beyonce single, ‘Run The World (Girls)’, essentially ‘Pon De Floor’ with entirely unnecessary vocals slathered over the top.

        Diplo, Switch and Major Lazer himself
        These are more than just influences, however: Roberts’ song is produced by one half of Major Lazer, Diplo, while Beyonce’s is entirely produced by both Diplo and Switch. Sure, you might say, of course a song produced by Diplo and/or Switch is going to sound like Major Lazer.

        Yet the fact that these blockbuster releases are not only being trusted by the pair but purposefully attempting to sound as close to ‘Pon De Floor’ as possible is surely proof of its impact.

        Then there’s recent chart hits like LMFAO’s ‘Party Rock Anthem’ and the Black Eyed Peas’ ‘The Time (Dirty Bit)’, which marry sing-along choruses with ‘dirty’ and 'Pon De Floor'-style highly danceable breakdowns.

        Big choruses have long been a key component when it comes to pop music, but these bizarre breakdowns are a new phenomenon and it’s the relatively underground ‘Pon De Floor’ that began this craze. Though it may initially have untroubled the charts, its cult status has grown to the point where it’s still being played in clubs two years on from its first release.

        And thank goodness, because it’s a song designed for clubs - music for people to dance manically to in dark, crowded rooms. More so than ever before, the boundaries between pop music and dance music are being blurred without losing the essential qualities of both - an anti-intellectual mix of fun and sex that has enthralled the general public but infuriates music critic (and snobs) like ourselves.

        One thing I will admit that irritates me though is the way in which this chart-dominating style of music clogs up radio stations; at seven in the morning, the last thing I want to hear is Dev singing about getting “scissored”.

        So anyway, back to Roberts’ song. What’s interesting about ‘Beat of My Drum’ is the additional tricks it has up its sleeve: the chorus isn’t a big synth-fest like so much of contemporary music, but instead a layered shout of “EL! OH! VEE! EE!” - cutesy and kitsch, in the vein of hipster favourites Feist and Lenka and of course Justice’s own ‘D.A.N.C.E.’.

        It’s a brilliant choice, distinguishing itself from the massive egos seen in most of these works and building on Roberts’ existing public image as the innocent and awkward member of Girls Aloud.

        Compare it to the silly and melodramatic output of fellow Girls Aloud breakout Cherl Cole and the track’s brilliance becomes even clearer. Fashionable, fun, knowing: are not words that can be used to describe Cole’s singles (especially the dreary ‘Promise This’ - who wants to hear pop music about the inevitability of death?), but definitely apply to Roberts’ track.

        So I wish all the best to Nicola, or more specifically Diplo and Dimitri Tikovoi, the true brains behind ‘Beat of My Drum’. Not that they need any wishes - this one will surely go on to sell zillions, and hopefully influence much more pop music with such a finely-honed sense of fun.

        Wednesday, 1 June 2011

        Festival Review - Dot To Dot 2011, Nottingham, 29/5/11: Part One

        Click the image for more
        Dot To Dot 2011 Coverage
        This is already a massive post, so we'll keep this intro short - here's the first half of what happened when Quiff Pro 'Fro went to Dot To Dot all day festival in Nottingham. We saw loads of awesome bands, many that you should really check out - check out our live tweets from the day here.

        The first band of the day was Spotlight Kid, a local band with a very strong My Bloody Valentine influence. Though on record the band could easily have emerged from the early 90s, live they just about managed to differentiate themselves, with a three-guitar attack that filled the large but fairly empty (well, it was only 3pm) space of the Nottingham Trent Union’s main room.

        Lead singer Katty, surrounded onstage by the other five members of the band, put on a decent show to those who had turned up early, but unfortunately the band underestimated the length of their own set and had to leave a song early. (Typical shoegazers - so engrossed in their own music they forget about everything else going on around them!) Despite the anticlimatic end to the set, it was a pleasant throwback to a time when vocals were mixed lower than the bassline.

          Spotlight Kid- 'All Is Real' by Type PR 

        A quick dash upstairs to the Trent Uni Pulse saw electro rockers VETO take to the stage. Aside from a quick search on the Hype Machine, neither Elliot nor I knew very much about the band at all - it was certainly a surprise then when lead singer Troels Abrahamsen introduced them by saying: “Hi, we're VETO from Denmark. Sorry about the whole Viking/rape thing”.

        It was a nice ice-breaker, and the compact crowd seemed impressed with the group’s seamless blending of dark, industrial rock and electronic samples and synths. It’s a combination that can often seem disjointed in other bands, however VETO seemed adept at blurring the middle ground between genres, with plenty of danceable squelches of bass, anthemic melodies and a noticable moodiness. It was a really tight set, with Abrahamsen hitting every note perfectly, and precise drumming keeping the whole thing neat and self-contained as opposed to sprawling and self-indulgent.

        VETO’s dark, throbbing beats would definitely have benefitted from a darker room than Pulse or a later evening slot, however the fact that the crowd stuck around showed that the tunes are strong enough in their own right. There were a few very passionate crowd members there, and definitely a load of new fans at the end of the set.

          Veto - Digits by TobiTobsen

        Photo by Jo Cox
        With a 30 minute wait between VETO and Stagecoach, we wandered over to the Trent Main Room balcony to catch a few minutes of the decent Hot Horizons before heading back into Pulse to get a good place in the crowd for one of my most anticipated sets of the day. We’ve bigged up Stagecoach before on the blog (see this piece on new single ‘Jonah Lomu/Tony Hawk’, or this bit about the Crash My Ride EP), and having interviewed them (watch out for that soon!) only an hour earlier, I was pretty excited to finally see these guys live.

        Well, they didn’t disappoint. All of the energy you hear on their recordings is amplified live, and as ‘Hieroglyphics’ kicked the set off, frontman Luke Barham was already clambering onto the bass drum, whilst mandolin player Tom, in full sports kit complete with sweat bands, jumped straight into the front of the shocked crowd.

        Taking in tracks from both the We Got Tazers! and Crash My Ride EPs as well as both tunes from the new single and ‘Not Even Giles Would Say We’ll Be OK’, the setlist showcased most of the band’s best two-minute distorted power-pop nuggets. ‘Map To The Freezer’ was an obvious highlight - for anyone else who saw the set, I was the guy at the front going mental for it with my arms in the air.

        The audience seemed to enjoy the set despite the unatmospheric setting, though a bit more dancing wouldn’t have gone amiss. However, the sheer enthusiasm of the band and ridiculously fun tunes meant that this was one of the best sets of the day, with all band members running through the crowd at the end of ‘Good Luck With Your 45’ providing an exhilarating finale.

          Stagecoach - Not Even Giles Would Say We'll Be OK by idlehandsclub 

        After the high energy of Stagecoach’s set, it was time for a bit of a break. A wander round Talbot Street brought us to The Rig in Rock City, where I bought a rather delicious chocolate brownie, and Elliot spontaneously decided to get his ‘Fro trimmed. Like a real friend, I watched, laughed and drank from his pint while he was unable to move in the barber’s chair.

         The 'before', 'during' and 'after' snaps...

        Returning to the Trent Main Room we caught the end of Benjamin Francis Leftwich’s set, and he sounded excellent as ever. His wonderfully delicate songs drew a huge crowd (notably lots and lots of female fans...), with new single ‘Box Of Stones’ getting a great reaction after heavy rotation on Radio 1. The gorgeous simplicity of Leftwich’s tunes is hypnotic, with such atmosphere in the gently plucked strings and almost whispered vocals that the audience can’t help but be drawn in. ‘Maps’ and ‘Atlas Hands’ from debut EP A Million Miles Out sounded particularly lovely. His debut album Last Smoke Before The Snow Storm is out in a few weeks and is sure to place him at the forefront of British singer-songwriting - make sure you see Leftwich while he’s still playing intimate venues. He’s a brilliant and poignant performer, and the more personal setting you see him in the better.

          Benjamin Francis Leftwich - Maps by Henry Coachella

        Leftwich provided the calm before the oncoming storm of Dananananaykroyd - without a doubt the act I was most looking forward to seeing on the day. They’re one of the best, most exciting and intensely fun acts I’ve ever seen, and after a break to record their forthcoming second album There Is A Way, I couldn’t wait to behold them again.

        My most anticipated act sadly turned out to be the biggest disappointment. As ever, the band played brilliantly - singers Calum and John Baillie Jr. flung themselves across the stage with uncontrollable excitement, while guitarist Duncan semi-star jumped on the spot. David Roy’s incredible fretwork was impressive as always. While a poor sound mix made it very difficult to hear the vocals, the problem wasn’t the band.

        It was the crowd. Any energy put across from the band was in no way returned. There was no dancing, no jumping around, and hardly even any heads bobbing. What was going on?! Despite being stood in front of one the most exhilirating live acts currently around, the crowd weren’t interested. You might have thought that as soon as Calum and John vaulted the barrier and headed into the audience during ‘The Greater Than Symbol and the Hash’, the crowd would go nuts. Well, only two people did, and one of them was me. Everybody else? Shame on you.

        On a more positive note, the tracks from new album sounded great, ‘Muscle Memory’ was awesome live, and the guys were as hilarious as usual. Still, they might as well have been playing to a brick wall.

          Dananananaykroyd - Some Dresses by SoundSpelunking
        The Joy Formidable
        Photo by Victor Frankowski
        From one high-energy band to another: up next was The Joy Formidable, the grungey three-piece from Wales bringing back loud-soft dynamics with a vengeance. Frontwoman Ritzy Bryan is a joy to watch - all googly eyes and smiles, she seems far too small and sweet to be playing such powerful, energetic riffs.
        And what a set it was: all of the key songs from their impressive debut The Big Roar, including the likes of ‘Cradle’ and ‘Whirring’, the epic finale of the latter building to a massive set-closing crescendo. A haunting version of ‘Buoy’, in particular sounded incredible in the large venue.

        The crowd was half-decent too - despite the moshing-unfriendly nature of The Joy Formidable’s drawn-out riffs - and definitely came away satisfied. With a live act this good, I’d highly recommend seeing them while you get the chance - in a few years’ time they’ll be filling up stadiums.

          Whirring by thejoyformidable
        So there you have it - part one of our epic Dot To Dot roundup from Nottingham. Coming soon - part two of our review, featuring an 11 track Dot To Dot Festival MP3 Mixtape, as well as an interview with Stagecoach. Hell yeah!